There is one thing that’s a guarantee in any relationship: We hurt each other sometimes, even if we don’t want to. The marriage relationship is certainly no exception—so forgiveness needs to be an ongoing element of a healthy marriage relationship.
We’ve spend a lot of time over the years talking about what we call “forgiving love.” Forgiving love is the love that brings you and your spouse back together when the inevitable offenses of a marriage relationship have pushed you apart. Forgiving love heals hurts, resolves conflicts, and helps you feel accepted and connected again. Forgiving freely is what Jesus has done for us and modeled for us to do in our own relationships—including marriage.
Forgiving love is a good place to start in a relationship because that’s where God starts with each of us. When we come to him by faith, confessing our sin and accepting Christ as our Savior, he forgives us and welcomes us into his family. The sins that stood between us were sent “as far away from us as the east is from the west” (Psalm 103:12). God’s grace-driven forgiveness cleared the way for the loving relationship we enjoy with him on a daily basis.
When we extend forgiving love to each other as husband and wife, we enjoy the same kind of relationship-restoring experience. Biblical forgiveness means that you willingly and actively choose to give up your grudge despite the severity of the injustice done to you. Now, you may not be able to hurl the offense to the other side of the compass as God does, but you can choose to let go of it. Once you “drop the charges,” as it were, the path is clear for restoring the relationship.
It is also important to realize a couple of things that biblical forgiveness in marriage does not mean.
First, in forgiving your spouse, you are not denying that he or she hurt you in some way. Of course your spouse’s offense hurt you, perhaps deeply. There is nothing wrong with feeling the hurt and admitting it while deciding to let your spouse off the hook by forgiving him or her.
Second, in forgiving your spouse, you don’t have to minimize what happened. You may be tempted to say, “It’s alright, honey, it didn’t really matter.” But it did matter. You were offended in some way. The intimacy of your relationship was disrupted. There was a violation—no matter how slight—of the marriage vow to love, honor, and cherish. It’s okay to acknowledge that something wrong happened as you choose to forgive.
Wonderful things happen when you choose to forgive your spouse for offending you. They parallel the great benefits we realize when God forgives us. Here are just a few of them:
Forgiving love sets your spouse free. Remember the weight of sin and guilt you felt before you received God’s forgiveness? Well, your spouse probably feels something of that pain and discomfort from hurting you. Remember how liberated you felt when God took your burden of sin away? When you say, “I forgive you,” you provide your spouse with a similar sense of freedom.
Forgiving love ends the skirmish. Once you experienced God’s forgiveness for sin, the war between you was over and God welcomed you into his family justified—as if there had been no sin in the first place. In the same way, when you forgive your spouse, the air is clear between you again. You can pick up your relationship where it left off before the offense, as if the hurtful behavior never happened. You are free to accept and connect with each other again.
Forgiving love gets you back on track. Once your sins were forgiven, all the wonders of God’s plan and purpose were suddenly available to you. Nothing stood between you and all God had for you. Similarly, when you forgive your spouse and your relationship is restored, you can resume pursuing your marriage dream. The offending issue is behind you. Let it go, and move on full speed in the ministry of growing deeper in your relationship.
“But I can’t forget how badly it hurt,” you may argue. “How can I move on with life after the pain my spouse inflicted?”
That’s right, you may not be able to completely forget an offense. Only God can say, “I will forgive their wickedness and will never again remember their sins” (Jeremiah 31:34). You don’t have the power to forget sin as God does. But God doesn’t intend for you to forget. Remembering the pain your spouse caused you may help prevent you from hurting him or her in the same way. In the meantime, you decide to let your spouse off the hook. After a while the memory will fade, and the pain will be healed.
Forgiveness is how we bring our relationship into the light. It’s how we set free the offended and the offender, reconcile with each other after a conflict, stand before our spouse without blemish, cut loose the guilt and grudges, and are cleansed from every wrong. And God says we must forgive—because he has forgiven us.
*For more helpful insights to connect with your spouse, check out Renewing Your Love: Devotions for Couples in our online bookstore.